Inconsistent offense doomed the men’s basketball team to a double-dose of defeat this weekend at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton in the opening salvo of Ivy League competition.
After the first week of conference play, the Elis (4-11, 0-2 Ivy) find themselves all alone at the bottom of the league standings. Against the Tigers (10-6, 1-1) on Saturday night, the Bulldogs led after the first half, 26-24 and seemed on the verge of winning in Jadwin Gym for the first time in their last 12 attempts. But they could not match a Princeton squad that emerged from the locker room with renewed vigor after the half. The Bulldogs were outscored 34-17 in the second period and ultimately fell 58-43.
The story played out even more miserably the night before against Penn (9-7, 2-0) at the Palestra, where the Elis have not won since the 1996-97 season. The Quakers opened the game 11-0 and led comfortably at the half, 37-22. The Bulldogs never got closer than 15 in the second period and mustered just 19 points after the half, eventually losing 65-41.
The Elis are now the only Ivy League team without a conference win, making their trek to the Ivy title extraordinarily difficult. The Quakers must now be considered the favorite to win the title after winning their opening pair of league games, first against the Elis and then against Brown on Saturday night. They are the only undefeated team in the Ancient Eight, giving them sole possession of the top spot.
Forward Sam Kaplan ’07 said that a combination of factors contributed to the Elis’ poor performance this weekend.
“We didn’t play very well as a team over the weekend,” Kaplan said. “With the start of the Ivy League, and us being down [in both games], everyone thought they had to start scoring, which wasn’t the case.”
Kaplan added that individual exasperation prevented the Elis from playing to their potential.
“We just had to make the extra pass,” Kaplan said. “Normally we would drive to the basket and kick-out for open shots or dish off to the big guys [down low]. We had guys getting frustrated and everyone thought they had to start doing it themselves, and it hurt us.”
Against Penn, guard Edwin Draughan ’05 was the only Eli to crack double figures in scoring, dropping 10 points on the Quakers. Center Dominick Martin entered Friday’s Ivy opener third in the league in scoring (15.3 ppg) but managed just two points on 1-for-6 shooting from the field. Captain Alex Gamboa, who had also been averaging double figures in scoring entering the game (11.6 ppg), added only one three-pointer on 1-for-7 shooting.
Martin said that in conference play, the defense is tougher and the open looks are fewer.
“That’s the nature of an Ivy League game,” Martin said. “You have to understand that there is less shot selection than before. I put up six shots [against Penn], which is not very many. I think they did a good job of double-teaming me. My shots were bad shots, rushed shots.”
Martin went on to say that one or two missed shots allowed Penn to be more patient on the other end of the court, find open looks, and increase their lead.
The Bulldogs were held to 28.8 percent shooting from the field, compared to Penn’s 43.3 percent shooting. The Quakers had three players score in double figures, led by forward Steve Danley’s 16 points, followed by guard Tim Begley’s 15 points and forward Mark Zoller’s 14 points. Penn outscored the Elis 36-20 in the paint.
While the Bulldogs had every reason to dwell on such a decisive defeat, they received good news out of Princeton, N.J. where they took on the Tigers Saturday night. Princeton, which was given the number one ranking in the league in the preseason poll, had lost to the Brown Bears the night before on the Tigers’ home court, 57-52.
“[Princeton's loss] was something good to hear,” Martin said. “We thought, ‘We can beat them.’ We played really well in the first half, then some calls didn’t go our way, we made some turnovers when we didn’t need to.”
The Elis came out strong against the Tigers, controlling the clock and making shots in sharp contrast to their bedraggled play the evening prior. The Bulldogs led from the first shot made — a three-pointer from Draughan — until 1:08 left in the first half, when Princeton took a brief one-point lead. The Elis went into the locker room up 26-24.
Forwards Kaplan, Casey Hughes ’07 and Martin all scored six points for the Elis in the first half while the entire squad shot an impressive 52.2 percent from the field.
But the Tigers answered early in the second period, opening the half with an 11-4 run. The Elis pulled to within three, 39-36, with 9:07 remaining but never got closer on their way to defeat, 58-43. Kaplan said the Tigers’ zone defense stiffened in the second half, making it difficult for the Elis to find open shots. Kaplan, Hughes and Martin, who began the game so strong, all failed to score after the break. The team shot only 25 percent from the field after halftime.
“Their two-three zone gave us a lot of problems in the second half,” Kaplan said. “In Dominick’s case, they doubled the post every time — he got into early foul trouble. The way Princeton plays their two-three, they have five guys playing the basketball, and two guys around the post at all times. We were just not getting easy looks for the guards or the big men.”
Martin said the Elis rushed their shots in the second half in the face of the tougher Tigers defense.
Princeton received unexpected production from senior center Mike Stephens. He had been averaging 3.4 points per game off the bench before Saturday’s game, but against Yale, Stephens dropped a career high 23 points. Guard Will Venable added 11 points for the Tigers.
For the second night in a row, Draughan was the only Eli to break double-figures in scoring, adding 12 points for the Elis. When he scored his third point of the night with 9:29 to go in the first half, Draughan became just the 12th Eli in Yale history to score 1,200 career points.
Forward Nick Holmes ’08 said that while the Elis were disheartened, they know there is still a lot of basketball to be played.
“Obviously we’re disappointed we dropped two games, especially those two games because Penn and Princeton will be two of the top teams in the league,” Holmes said. “But we know it’s not over. If we win a couple games this weekend and a couple the next weekend — everyone is disappointed, but we’re not down, we’re not out of it.”